Gary Tobin, the late and renowned Jewish demographer, founded an academic institute before his untimely death in 2009 called the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. I knew Prof. Tobin and studied his surveys of American Jewry with great interest when I was a fundraiser for Brandeis University, where he taught.
But I’m sorry to say that since his untimely death in 2009, the Institute, under the leadership of his wife, Diane Tobin, has taken a U-turn away from Gary’s core academic interests. Ms. Tobin, it should be noted, has no academic background in Jewish studies, demography or any similar field. Now, IJCR has largely been turned over to the concocted academic field of “anti-Israelism.” Academics and wannabes use the term as almost synonymous with anti-Semitism. They hope they can raise consciousness in the U.S., to the extent that so-called anti-Israeli attitudes on American campuses merge with the definition of anti-Semitism.
Last June, the anti-Israelism field was dealt a hard blow when Yale University closed its academic program for the study of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism because it had become too politicized (i.e. anti-Muslim and pro-Israel) and because few faculty members would collaborate with it or take it seriously. At a major conference organized by the program and its director, Charles Small, the main theme seemed to be bashing Muslims and warning of the threat Islam poses to Jews and the world.
A senior IJCR staff member, Ken Marcus, leapt to the Yale program’s defense and called its closure an example of political correctness run amok. He all but claimed that the act by the University was due to pressure from Muslim pressure groups.
It’s not surprising then, to find that Marcus is one of the key intellectual authors of a new campaign to exploit newly written federal civil rights statutes (Title VI), which forbid campuses from creating a hostile environment for various ethnic and religious groups, including Jews. Marcus and his friends at Stand With Us are uniting to explore campuses where they can apply their new theory. To do so, they must find campuses where they can recruit sufficient Jewish students to complain that they are afraid to be Jews on campus because of the environment of fear and intimidation created by pro-Palestinian groups.
All this will require a Department of Education that is sufficiently malleable to take all this seriously. Given Pres. Obama’s need for the Jewish vote in the coming presidential election and his wish to be seen as uber-supportive of Israel, it isn’t at all clear that Education officials will throw this nonsense where it belongs–in the garbage can.
They’ve advanced farthest at UC Santa Cruz, where they’ve filed a formal complaint against the University. They recruited a junior lecturer (I wonder why they couldn’t find a senior faculty member to take up the cause?), Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, to act as their sponsor on campus and filed the complaint in her name. Said lecturer actually wrote an article for the far-right American Thinker asking whether Jewish students were safe on campus. In it, she hails the groundbreaking research of “investigative journalist,” Lee Kaplan, one of the stranger crackpots (along with Debbie Schlussel and Pam Geller) on the right-wing pro-Israel scene. I wonder if Rossman-Benjamin thinks publishing at American Thinker will add to the luster of her academic CV? The Department’s Office of Civil Rights has agreed to open a formal investigation of her complaint against UCSC.
Marcus has repeatedly contacted an Evergreen College faculty member who is known for his sympathy to anti-Occupation groups on campus. The former asked repeatedly by phone and in writing to interview the faculty member, seeking to know “his personal political views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” He mentioned as well, that he’d already interviewed noted Jewish critics of Israeli policy, Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler, as if this might give the faculty member (who isn’t Jewish) cover. Marcus clearly intended to build a dossier which might be used to bolster any complaint brought against Evergreen. In short this, for Marcus, is becoming a productive new venture. A Jewish campus jihad. We can expect a raft of such complaints against campuses which allow protest against Israeli Occupation to be too vociferous for Marcus’ taste and those of his wealthy pro-Israel benefactors.
Marcus and the academic pro-Israelists (two can play at this game, you know) also must recruit students who’ve been “damaged” or traumatized by their treatment on campus. So they seek out students who’ve transferred out because they felt there was a hostile climate for Jews. Students who’ve appeared in Stand With Us videos attacking Evergreen have spoken about anti-Occupation protests on campus as if they were personal attacks on their Jewish identity. They speak of trauma like a Jew might speak of trauma induced by anti-Semitism or Jewish suffering from the Holocaust.
As I wrote above, this is all part of a master plan by charlatans like Marcus to build both an academic field and legal theory that equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Like Daniel Pipes before him, Marcus is an ideologue clothed in academic robes. He has some academic pretensions, but his heart is pledged to Israel and not academe.
Israeli’s Pacific NW consul general, Akiva Tor, is also intimately involved in the project. This has been established by the StandWithUs website, which documents meetings he attended with Rob Jacobs and others at which the projected civil rights complaint against Evergreen was planned. Given last night’s post I wrote, which documents a proud boast by deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon that this is precisely the sort of tactic that the Israeli government is embracing, it seems clear the Israeli government is deeply engaged in this campaign of harassment against American institutions of higher learning.
For anyone whom this development doesn’t trouble, let’s compare this to say, the U.S. government helping organize an Israeli campaign to support controversial U.S. policies or to oppose the election of Barack Obama. Let’s say such a campaign included the use of civil rights complaints filed with the Israeli government to force schools to police offending speech. If this doesn’t seem outrageously intrusive in the domestic academic and political life of a country, I don’t know what is.
This attack on academic freedom corresponds with the efforts of Im Tirzu to compile and publicize lists of supposedly “anti-Zionist” Israeli campuses, departments and faculty. There is a concerted effort to regulate speech so that certain subjects and views either can’t be discussed or their discussion will involve paying a price in public opprobrium.
Returning to Ken Marcus, why does he persist when universities like Yale are dismissing them and their colleagues as lacking academic rigor? Because there’s gold in them thar hills. Over $4-million worth (which excludes a $5-million endowment from Prof. Tobin’s life insurance policy) according to IJCR’s 2010 IRS 990 report. There are scores of generously endowed Jewish foundations like the Schusterman Foundation and many others which lap this stuff up. That’s why Schusterman, for one, funds campus efforts of Aipac. Their idea of building strong young Jews is by training them to espouse pro-Israel views. Secondarily, strong young Jews also learn that a major part of their identity involves battling campus criticism of Israel.
The Marcuses of academia must not be allowed to succeed. If they do, then any of us, including and especially Jews, will be consigned to the hellish Inferno of self-haters and Israel-haters. Anti-Israelism is a hoax-theory perpetrated on academia and American campuses by a hoax-theorist like Ken Marcus. He wants to stigmatize what is protected speech. Not only should there be academic freedom on campus to express political views, there must be freedom of speech, an even more basic American right. Students must be allowed to protest. It is part of a hallowed campus tradition. If pro-Israel students dislike the protest, let them mount their own–and they do. But to take speech critical of Israel and seek to punish an entire university for allowing it, is simply treif and un-American.
Ken Marcus may be a lawyer with experience dealing with civil rights and constitutional issues, but his interest doesn’t extend much beyond his own nose and his own co-religionists’ (and even a narrow band of those, at that).
Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you why Marcus may think he’s got a special “in” with the Department of Education in its review of these current and future civil rights complaints. He’s a former litigator who also helped write, you guessed it, those new Title VI regulations which incorporated Jews as a protected group on campus. He did that when he worked for…the Department of Education during the Bush administration.
Consumer activists and peace activists are rightfully indignant about the revolving door between government and industry, which permits a federal official to write a regulation that will impact a business and then go out and take a job with the company for whom he wrote the regulation. It encourages these officials to collude with potential future employers to write rules that will meet industry’s needs, rather than those of the consumer. This is almost precisely what Ken Marcus did. He helped write a rule and now he’s trying to exploit it for the imagined good of Israel and poor, suffering pro-Israel students.
Marcus also boasts on his curriculum vitae that he is an official of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, an inaptly named group which engages in heavy pro-Israel advocacy. He was staff director of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission under George Bush. You can tell whose civil rights he championed when he was there and whose he likely ignored.
On a separate note, Electronic Intifada reports that the president of the Evergreen campus Hillel is a StandWithUs Northwest Emerson Fellow. I have spent many, many hours of great Jewish enjoyment in campus Hillels at Columbia, UCLA and UC Berkeley. When I was there, these were houses that welcomed all Jews. There, the Hillel rabbi took no sides in the Israel debate, but rather attempted to provoke discussion and learning, rather than exclusion. Until recently, this was true of Evergreen Hillel as well. It had been a place open to students with diverse views of Israel. But increasingly, Hillel is becoming a place where only certain Jews are welcome. Those who oppose the Occupation or support the campus divestment initiative no longer feel so. That’s because StandWithUs, as Israel’s Channel 10 news noted in its interview with Danny Ayalon, is an arm of the Israeli government, in effect a lobbying agent for a foreign power. It uses it campus activism to lobby for Israel and the Occupation. Accordingly, Hillel is being turned into a cheering section for the Israeli government. This is an infinitely sad development for those of us who’ve known and appreciated the wonderful Hillels at campuses where we’ve studied.
The Hillel president, Joshua Levine illustrates the confusion SWU and pro-Israelists encourage between Jewish identity and support for Israel. He said this:
“There are days I feel uncomfortable walking across campus alone because I wear a yarmulke [Jewish skull cap] on my head,” Levine alleges.
There are many Jews wearing yarmulkes who don’t support StandWithUs. Some who don’t support the Occupation. The issue isn’t wearing a yarmulke. That’s an expression of Jewish identity. When you confuse Israel with Judaism you get into a terribly sticky wicket. It is Levine’s extreme views that cause him conflict with those on campus critical of Israeli policy. It isn’t his yarmulke or his Jewishness. After all, many of the campus leaders of the anti-Occupation protests are Jewish. And Joshua Levine has no monopoly on Jewishness. There are many ways to be Jewish. In fact, as many ways as there are to approach the issue of Israel. Instead of suppressing this debate on campus, we should encourage it along with values of tolerance and civility.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.